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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Genderification of Gaming

Many of you may not know who Jack Thompson is. To summarize : He is a disbarred former attorney from Florida who believes video games should not be protected by the First Amendment (to the Constitution of the US) and are nothing more than "training/tutorial" for adolescent violence.

The argument is often used that video games contribute to male aggressiveness and desensitization. Nothing, if very little, is mentioned about females other than how the gaming industry is really not tapping into their demographic (yet), or simply just one demographic of the gaming mainstream (gaming for the masses). They are just another consumer group waiting to be tapped. Penn & Teller dove into this topic for their Showtime show : Bullshit. Here is preview:

(If you do not have Showtime to view the whole episode, I am saddened, but it will be out on DVD soon.)

Games don't have the same effect on women, because the games are not violent and are generally intended for just about anyone, right? Tracy John, of Wired, explores that topic:

A wave of new games for tween girls seeks to do just that, serving up innocuous gameplay designed to let players become perfect little princesses. Aimed at that lucrative, Hannah Montana-fueled intersection of childhood and adolescence, these games might give 8- to 12-year-olds their first experiences with fashion, make-up, popularity … even boys.

The weird thing is that you can view these “wholesome” games as being just as bad for girls as Grand Theft Auto’s random bloodshed and rampant criminality is for young, impressionable boys. And while GTA’s influence on boys has been dissected to death, what about the Nintendo DS’ upcoming avalanche of games for tween girls? What kinds of values do preteens learn from these titles? Valuable life lessons, or bad habits?

How about some of these examples:

The Clique: Diss and Make Up

(Warner Bros. Interactive, Aug. 31)

What it’s about: Inspired by the best-selling books, The Clique has the player take on the role of a new student at an all-girls middle school. The goal is to work your way up the social ladder through different cliques (math club, jocks, etc.) using “gossip, fashion and wit” until you finally are able to join the school’s top posse, the Pretty Committee.
What it teaches girls: Ponytails, books and plaid shirts will get you stared at. Better to jump through hoops and pretend to be someone you’re not in an effort to become one of the most popular girls in school, because it beats the hell out of being part of the Ugly Committee.

Charm Girls Club: My Fashion Mall, My Fashion Show and My Perfect Prom

(Electronic Arts, Oct. 20)

What it’s about: EA’s new line of games features possibly the hardest-working group of BFFs in America. Fashion Mall has the girls managing a mall, dealing with “mall drama” and making it a “hip hangout”; My Fashion Show lets players design clothes (”And make sure the puppy’s outfit matches too!”) and direct models; My Perfect Prom has you plan, decorate and eventually attend the big dance. The goal? To complete tasks and collect “sparkly, virtual charms.”
What it teaches girls: “Sparkly, virtual charms” are just as good as money. Mall management is a viable career choice. You can bring your pets to fashion shows. And prom has to be nothing less than perfect.

(Full article here)

What's the conclusion, if any? Games are suppose to be entertainment and educational. Like anything, they are endowed by their creators with certain goals and characteristics. If that goal is to make money, the gameplay may suffer or the scope limited. There are few games (in any demographic) that are truly good. Just like not all musicians are legendary and all artists visionaries, not all games are memorable. Most are limited in scope (usually 5-10 hours of entertainment). Our environment is constantly trying to change us and vice-versa. We should be aware of that. Just because something isn't violent or isn't perceived to contribute to violence, doesn't mean it is inane or not harmful. Bela Lugosi said it best :

"Bevare!! Take Care....



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